February 24, 2014

How to Earn a Merit Badge for Horror: a review of Nick Cutter's "The Troop"

The Troop
by Nick Cutter
Simon & Schuster Canada (2014)
368 pages
ISBN 1476717710 (ISBN13: 9781476717715)

Prince Edward Island is not a place I would consider synonymous with horror ... until now. Nick Cutter has crafted a terrifying thriller here that takes a tiny island just off the coast of the picturesque province and turns it into a prison for a troop of teen boys and their scoutmaster.

The novel itself kind of came out of nowhere, an advance review copy that appeared in my mailbox late in the summer. I had never heard of Nick Cutter before, so I had no idea what to expect from it, and then I found out Nick Cutter was a pseudonym for an author whose work I had read and reviewed in the past, and that's when my interest rose considerably.

On paper, the premise sounds familiar enough. A group of teens are trapped with a ravenous creature that seems bent on devouring them all. That's a bit misleading, though not by much. It's the characters, or rather the interaction between the characters, that carry the story, along with an interesting interspersing of news articles and investigative interviews set after the events that take place on the small island. There's a strong sense of dread just from reading along as Scoutmaster Tim, a small-town doctor, and his six teen charges are met by a disheveled, starving man who washes up on shore. But it's the interludes that confirm things are only going to get worse for everyone without explicitly saying what that really hammers home the horror.

Granted, this novel is not for the weak-stomached. I've been squeamish about body horror ever since I was a little boy, and honestly, my stomach will still churn when things get especially graphic--even with a novel where my imagination is putting all the gruesomeness on display. Look, I don't think I'm spoiling much by saying the stranger who arrives at the island camp has something parasitic in his belly, but I would be spoiling things to say just how gross things get when that parasite makes its presence known.

There are moments, particularly in the beginning, when the boys feel like archetype portrayals and little more, and maybe that's what Cutter was going for (the jock, the loner, the fatty, the coward, etc.), but the novel steers away from becoming a gory version of Lord of the Flies. Oh, it gets gory in spots, and the William Golding references can easily be made, but Nick Cutter has worked very hard for his stranded boys to stand on their own merits.

The Troop is an easy read that's hard to stomach. You'll get a lot out of it, but it just might get a lot out of you, too.

Available via Amazon.com and other fine bookstores.


  1. never a big fan of gore, but it's sounds like it has promise.

  2. Great review, Fox! I enjoyed many of the same things you did, and glad to see the interview you did with the author, which was fascinating and insightful! :-)


  3. Ryan - Read it on an empty stomach, dude. :)

    Eva - Thanks a bushel and a peck.